A jump in energy-related exports and a steep decline in oil imports lowered the U.S. trade deficit in December to nearly a three-year low.
The improvement suggests the economy grew in the October-December quarter instead of shrinking as the government estimated last week.
And the brighter picture for trade illustrates how a boom in oil and gas production is making the U.S. a leader in exporting low-cost energy, while higher domestic sales of fuel-efficient cars are lowering dependence on overseas oil.
The trade gap fell nearly 21 percent in December from November to $38.6 billion, the Commerce Department said Friday.
Total exports rose 2.1 percent to $186 billion, driven in part by record exports of gasoline, diesel and other fuels.